The Diffusion of Climate Protection Planning among U.S. Municipalities

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Virginia Tech

Many U.S. municipalities are engaged in climate protection planning, or efforts to reduce their communities' greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through land use, transportation, and energy planning. However, they face a number of procedural and institutional obstacles that limit the adoption and implementation of those plans. The literature on climate protection planning identifies some of the factors that lead municipalities to join relevant policy networks, but provides little guidance for overcoming the aforementioned obstacles and adopting policies to reduce community-wide GHG emissions. This dissertation increases the understanding of climate protection planning by examining whether the adoption of these plans and policies is driven primarily by local demographic, economic, environmental, or political characteristics. It also contributes to the literature on local government policy diffusion by examining whether the spread of climate protection policies is dictated primarily by internal or external determinants.

The research for this report includes a survey with responses from 255 U.S. municipal leaders. These responses are combined with secondary data and analyzed using multiple regression techniques to estimate the impact of 15 demographic, political-institutional, economic, and environmental variables on the adoption of climate protection plans and policies. A series of follow-up telephone interviews provides a more detailed understanding of how these factors influence the extent of climate protection planning. The quantitative findings indicate that the influence of neighboring jurisdictions, the presence of staff members assigned to energy or climate planning, and the level of community environmental activism have the greatest impact on climate protection policy adoption. The interviews reveal that the most successful municipalities tend to coordinate with their neighbors on energy and climate issues and incorporate meaningful community participation in their climate protection planning processes. This supports the conclusion that the extent of climate protection planning is driven primarily by internal processes, and municipalities that are successful in this area do not fit any one profile according to their demographic, economic, or environmental characteristics. Therefore, most if not all municipalities have the potential to adopt climate protection policies if sufficient resources, support, and initiative are in place.

Climate Protection, Energy, Local Governments, Planning, Policy Diffusion, Sustainability